Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has described the failure to provide Madeleine Mulrennan, the President of St Catherine’s College of Home Economics in Sion Hill, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, with information about the planned transfer of the college to Sligo as a significant omission and a serious defect in the decision making process.
Ms Mulrennan had sought the information under the Freedom of Information Act but was refused. That decision was overturned by Ms O’Reilly.
The minister also strongly defended his decision that St Catherine College be closed and students transferred on a phased basis to St Angela’s College in Sligo.
He denied the decision was made for political reasons. When asked about intense political lobbying for the college’s transfer from fellow party members he said there were representations from both sides. The minister said he made the decision for economic and capital expenditure reasons.
It was a better option to have one campus instead of two separated by a hundred miles. The cost of these proposals for an amalgamation of the Colleges would have been in the region of €6m but the decision he made would cost only €1.7m.
In an RTÉ interview the minister said he did not know the reason why the information was not released. As minister, he had no say whatsoever over what was released by the department.
The decision was made by an official and ministers were not supposed to interfere. There were very specified grounds under which he could intervene by written order but this did not happen in this case.
Labour Party Education spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan accused the minister of ignoring the advice of his own officials about the future of St. Catherine’s College and failing to ensure that the advice became public. She said it appeared the minister’s decision had everything to do with political considerations and nothing to do with the education needs of the students at Sion Hill.
Green Party spokesperson Paul Gogarty said it was not the first time that complaints had been made about department officials suppressing information.